10 Famous People Who Were Accused of Plagiarism

No matter the medium, people are consistently inspired by the major influences that came before them. As such, they often re-create what they have seen or heard before. Sometimes, this is done intentionally as a nod to another artist; sometimes, it is done unintentionally.

While imitation is a form of flattery, this might not necessarily be true when it come comes to plagiarism. Accusers can climb a slippery slope when taking an idea from someone else — especially within the multi-media environment we live in today.

The idea that someone has ripped off or completely stolen a concept or words from another creator can cause a huge stir these days.

10. Melania Trump

Ah, that crazy Trump family! While Donald is usually at the core of the media attention, his wife Melania that took center stage at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Melania Trump delivered a very eloquent speech at the event. However, it sounded all too familiar to a speech that Michelle Obama relayed years before during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

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9. George Harrison

As a former member of The Beatles, George Harrison was used to the limelight.

After the foursome disbanded, Harrison hit solo success with his debut single in 1971, titled “My Sweet Lord”. The song would climb the charts and hit number one. However, fellow musicians and critics were quick to point out that the tune’s melody was very similar to the Chiffon’s hit, “He’s So Fine”. While Harrison claimed he did not intentionally steal from “He’s So Fine”, he was found guilty of subconscious plagiarism.

What did the former Beatle do next? Swept the plagiarism problem under the rug by simply purchasing the publishing company that owned the rights to “He’s So Fine.” Well, that’s one way to take care of that issue.

8. James Cameron

Filmmaker James Cameron is known for some legendary big box office draws like Titanic, The Terminator, and Avatar.

Despite this immense success, it has been alleged that Cameron stole the storyline for Avatar from someone else. These accusations state the concept of the movie stemmed from Call Me Joe by author Paul Anderson. The only difference between Avatar and Call Me Joe is that Avatar takes place within the fictional setting of Pandora, while the novel’s story unfolds on Jupiter.

Cameron probably fluffed off the accusations since he’s most likely used to being sued for plagiarism at this point. After all, he’s been sued in the past around idea-stealing for some of his other movies. Also, Avatar itself garnered multiple lawsuits after the film was released.

Another day, another drama for Cameron.

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7. Jane Goodall

Most people are aware of Jane Goodall’s tremendous work as an animal rights activist, her efforts around conservation, and her studies involving chimpanzees. Goodall has enjoyed over five decades of success, penning many papers and books to help the public understand chimpanzees better and how similar they are to humans.

Due to this incredible career, one would be shocked to learn of Goodall’s plagiarism scandal from 2013. On the cusp of releasing a new book, Seeds of Hope, review copies sent to the media had some journalists raising an eyebrow or two. In particular, The Washington Post’s Steven Levingston found passages with the book that were not attributed. To add to the controversy, passages that were sourced came from undesirable sites like Wikipedia. Goodall delayed the release of the book until 2014 to address the plagiarism problems.

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6. The Beach Boys

Who isn’t familiar with “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys?

While the tune might be playing in your head as you read this sentence, the band was originally accused of ripping off the melody from the Chuck Berry hit, “Sweet Little Sixteen”. Despite this, the good news is that Berry was given royalties and provided with a co-writing credit on “Surfin’ USA”. Well, after Berry’s publisher sued that is.

5. Amy Schumer

It’s got to be hard to be a comedian. You have to come up with fresh jokes for your set, but also material audiences have never heard before.

In 2016, Amy Schumer felt this pain in the form of a plagiarism accusation. Three female comics came forward stating that Schumer had stolen their jokes. They had realized this for a while but were afraid to step up until then. After they came forward, others accused Schumer of stealing their jokes as well.

If one watches the bits of the accusers and Amy’s set side-by-side, the jokes do seem similar. However, Schumer jumped on Twitter to clear the air, posting that she has never, nor would ever, steal material.

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4. Helen Keller

Most are familiar with Helen Keller’s inspirational life story that was turned into a book and movie.

As a toddler born in the 1800s, Keller developed an illness that eventually made her deaf and blind. Educated by Anne Sullivan, she would go on to become the first-ever blind-deaf individual to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Keller would go onto enjoy a career as a political activist, author, and public speaker.

Keller was well-known by the time she wrote a story at the age of 11. Titled The Frost King, it was published by the Goodson Gazette, a deaf-blind education journal. Sadly, after the story was published, some saw a striking resemblance around another story that was published by Margaret Canby, Frost Fairies.

Interestingly enough, a copy of the Frost Fairies was in a house that Sullivan and Keller stayed at during a vacation. Moreover, Sullivan read it to Keller. Keller stated she forgot about being read Frosty Fairies, although she had retained much of the story.

While Keller was a celebrity at the time of the plagiarism accusation, she was just a child. Thankfully, the controversy did not affect her career too much as she grew into an adult and moved onto great success.

3. Beyoncé

Musicians are often inspired by others when making videos, stage performances, and music. Such was the case in 2003 when choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker alleged that her moves were “stolen” by Beyoncé during the “Countdown” video.

Beyoncé stated she was inspired by Keersmaeker’s dance moves, but also by other cultural figures like Diana Ross, Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, and Andy Warhol.

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2. Joe Biden

Many miss former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden helping to lead the country. However, as endearing as he was as Barack Obama’s White House sidekick, he too has had plagiarism issues in the past.

Years ago, Biden had copied a section of a law review article for a class paper. He also used portions of other individuals’ speeches, claiming them as his own. While Biden did fluff the entire situation off, he did ultimately admit to the plagiarism.

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1. Dr. Martin Luther King

As a leader in the civil rights movement during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Dr. Martin Luther King was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a legendary figure in United States’ history, and will forever be remembered for his “I Have A Dream” speech. Sadly, plagiarism allegations have plagued King over the years.

The first one came from his dissertation in support of his Boston University doctorate titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman”. At that point in time, King defended the accusation and was able to move on and receive his degree.

Unfortunately, after King passed away, his wife donated his papers to the Stanford University King Papers Project. While organizing the papers, some individuals realized that sections of King’s early writings were taken from other writers — this included his doctoral thesis. Boston University would investigate and later confirmed in 1991 that the dissertation by King had plagiarism within.

Allegations have also popped up when it comes to King’s later writings, including his iconic “Dream” speech. The allegations about the “Dream” speech accuse King of taking the speech from Archibald Carey, another pastor. It’s important to note that while there are similarities between the speeches, it can also be explained by both men pulling sections from a speech entitled “America” written by Samuel Francis.

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